The night before Southern stunned Alabama A&M in a 21-6 win at A.W. Mumford Stadium, the Jaguars gathered for their usual team dinner, followed by a few speeches from the staff.

Assistant head coach Ricky Diggs spoke. So, too, did the boss, Stump Mitchell.

At some point, defensive coordinator O'Neill Gilbert took center stage. By most accounts, he stole it. As he spoke, his green eyes and razor-sharp tongue both shot fire.

"Basically, he was saying we need to bring the university back. Last year, everything went down. It fell off," said linebacker Anthony Balancier, whose mother attended SU in the early 1990s.

"But if we win, and if we keep winning, the university will get more students, more money and all of that. To me, that was the important thing about the speech, about what he said."

It must have worked.

In fact, a whole lot of things must have worked.

Saturday's game was an incredibly sharp contrast from past performances - both last season, when the team went 2-9 in its first year under Mitchell, and last week, when the Jaguars fell into an hole and suffered a 33-7 blowout loss to Tennessee State in their season opener.

The turnaround didn't surprise Mitchell, an eternal optimist who believes hard work and discipline can overcome the odds, now matter how ridiculous.

Evidently, it didn't surprise the players.

This time, they were properly motivated. In last year's meeting, Alabama A&M manhandled Southern and cruised to a 34-14 win.

SU players had not forgotten, and privately they had vowed to settle the score.

Saturday night, the defensive line - so badly beaten in the TSU loss - took the fight to A&M, applying heavy pressure (three sacks, 10 tackles for loss) and holding the Bulldogs to 60 rushing yards.

The secondary was impressive as well, knocking down passes and players with equal force. The team finished with 11 pass breakups, and safeties Levi Jackson and Demetric Rogers delivered several big hits.

Then, on the other side, there was Dray Joseph.

The sophomore quarterback has rarely been hotter than he was in the first half Saturday, when each of his first two pass attempts went for touchdowns.

He finished with three TD passes and no interceptions.

"I think for me, the most important thing is, once I get a good start, that's it. I'm just in the zone for the whole time," he said. "But if I start off slow, then I think about that too much, and then I play like a robot, instead of (by) instinct."

All in all, it was an impressive win for a team that desperately needed one.

But it wasn't a perfect win.

For starters, Southern missed three more legitimate chances to score touchdowns, because of drops, missed reads and one interception thrown by backup J.P. Douglas.

If that weren't enough, Southern failed to establish the run. Byron Williams was the leading ball carrier, with 12 yards on three attempts.

And while the Jaguars' kickoff, punt and kick-return teams were an asset, Manuel Canto missed his only field-goal attempt, from 29 yards.

"Even though we're happy because we won, these guys know we have a lot of work to go, to be the type of football team we want to be," Mitchell said.

That much seems true. After all, the team still has a whale of a schedule. It continues this weekend with a home game against Jackson State.

And no one in a Southern uniform should ever have trouble getting psyched for Jackson State.

"Hopefully, we'll get twice as many fans in here next week," Mitchell said.

That probably won't be a problem.